Tenants' Rights - Going to Court

Authored By: Northwestern Legal Services


Northwestern Legal ServiceThere are many reasons why a tenant may find himself in court arguing against his landlord. But, regardless of why he is there, the tenant needs to bring certain things to help prove his case:

1. Receipts

Any time the tenant pays his rent, security deposit, or for repairs to the apartment, he should keep the receipt. If he paid by check, his receipt will be the canceled check. If he paid by money order, he should keep one of the copies. If he paid with cash, he should get the landlord (or repairman or anyone else he gives money to) to write how much money was paid, the date paid, and sign it.

Often, when the tenant appears in court, there will be some question about whether rent or security deposits were really paid. The tenant needs to show the receipts to the judge to prove that the money was paid.

2. Copies of all letters sent to the landlord

If the tenant had a problem with damages in the apartment not being repaired, he must show that he told the landlord about the problem. Or, if the tenant moves, he must show that he gave the landlord an address to send the security deposit.

The tenant should bring these letters to court to prove he did what he was supposed to do.

It would also be wise --and cost a little more --to send the letters by certified mail. The Post Office will write a receipt to show that the landlord got the letter. This receipt should also be brought to court.

3. A list of the damages that were in the apartment before moving in

The landlord is not allowed to make the tenant pay for these problems. However, landlords often do not keep track of these damages, so that when the tenant leaves, the landlord keeps part of the security deposit to pay for these repairs.

So, before you move in to an apartment, make a list of all the damages, and have the landlord sign it. (If the landlord refuses to sign it, you can count on having problems with him in the future, so think about looking at other apartments.) Make a similar list before you move out of the apartment to protect yourself from having the landlord make up damages in order to keep your security deposit.

4. Proof of damages the landlord did not fix

If you are saying the landlord did not keep the apartment in good shape, you will need (in addition to the letter telling the landlord about the problem) to show that the damages are as serious as you say. You can have a housing inspector provide a report of the damages, have other witnesses tell what they have seen, bring pictures, or other proof.

If the damages to the apartment affect your health and safety, be sure to explain this. For instance, your might mention that you became sick because there was no heat; or you might mention that your had to replace furniture that was ruined due to a badly leaking roof.

During your hearing

You will have a chance to ask the landlord questions. Make him prove what he says by showing papers, receipts, or written estimates for repairs, or having witnesses that saw what happened. If he says that you caused $100 in damage, for instance, make him prove that you caused the damage, and that the $100 is the actual cost to repair the damage and put the apartment in the condition it was in before you did the damage (he should not get money from you to remodel his property).

Use your papers, receipts, estimates, and witnesses to make sure that the judge hears the truth.

If the judge makes a decision you don't agree with, you have the right to appeal. You should talk with a lawyer when you appeal. The lawyer can help you prepare your case. If you can not afford a lawyer, contact the Legal Services Program in your area for more information.

We have attempted to insure the accuracy of the information in this Pamphlet at the time it was created or revised. However, the law does change, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. Therefore, you should consult an attorney before taking or refraining from any action based on the information.



Last Review and Update: Dec 23, 2021
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